9 Bugs That Look Like Boxelder Bugs: Surprising Mimics in Your Garden

Boxelder bugs are common insects, often seen congregating on walls, looking for warmth and shelter during the fall season.

They are harmless to humans and do not cause structural damage. They can, however, be a pest if they congregate in large numbers.

These black and red-striped bugs might be mistaken for other similar-looking pests.

Eastern Boxelder Bug

It’s essential to distinguish different bugs, as their methods of control and potential harm to humans or property may vary.

Let’s dive into some of these similar insects and discuss their characteristics.

Identifying Bugs That Look Like Boxelder Bugs

Physical Characteristics

Boxelder bugs are small, black insects with distinct red markings.

Adults measure about 1/2 inch in length and have an oval shape with two antennae.

Their wings host diagonal red lines, while their thorax displays three red lines.

Nymphs are similar in appearance but tend to be smaller and lack fully developed wings2.

Some key physical features of boxelder bugs to remember are:

  • Black color
  • Oval shape
  • Red markings on wings and thorax
  • Two antennae

Habitats and Habits

These bugs are typically found around boxelder and some maple trees3.

They seek warmth and shelter, often congregating on sunny walls with western or southern exposure and light-colored surfaces in the early fall4.

Boxelder bugs’ habits can be summed up with the following bullet points:

Bugs That Look Like Boxelder Bugs: Common Lookalikes and Differences

Eastern Boxelder Bug vs. Western Boxelder Bug

Eastern and Western boxelder bugs are two closely related species. Both are part of the Rhopalidae family and their young look similar.

How to differentiate: Key differences between Eastern (Boisea trivittata) and Western boxelder bugs (Boisea rubrolineata) include:

  • Eastern bugs often have more distinct red markings.
  • Western bugs may have less prominent orange-red markings.
Bugs That Look Like Boxelder Bugs
Western Boxelder Bug

Boxelder Bug vs. Red-Shouldered Bug

Boxelder bugs and red-shouldered bugs may be difficult to distinguish, as both have:

  • Red or orange markings on their bodies
  • Six legs
  • Similar body shape

How to differentiate: red-shouldered bugs are more common in the South and Southwest, while boxelder bugs are found in different regions.

File:Red-shouldered Bug - Jadera haematoloma, Everglades National Park, Homestead, Florida.jpg

Red-Shouldered Bug. Source: Judy GallagherCC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Squash Bugs

Boxelder bugs and squash bugs share similarities such as:

  • Brownish-gray body color
  • Six legs
  • Oval body shape

How to differentiate: squash bugs are primarily found on squash and pumpkin plants, while boxelder bugs prefer boxelder trees.

Squash Bug

Bordered Plant Bug

Boxelder bugs and bordered plant bugs can be mistaken for each other because of:

  • Their similar size
  • Six legs
  • Red or orange markings

How to differentiate: bordered plant bugs are more commonly found on flowers and plants, while boxelder bugs are associated with boxelder trees.

Bordered Plant Bug

Leaffooted Bugs

Boxelder bugs and leaffooted bugs have resemblances like:

  • Long, oval bodies
  • Six legs
  • Similar body color

How to differentiate: leaffooted bugs have distinct leaf-like extensions on their hind legs, setting them apart from boxelder bugs.

Western Leaf Footed Bug

Kissing Bug

Boxelder bugs and kissing bugs can be confused due to:

  • Similar body shape
  • Six legs
  • Red or orange markings

How to differentiate: kissing bugs are known to transmit Chagas disease, making them more dangerous than the harmless boxelder bug.

Kissing Bug

Western Conifer Seed Bug

Boxelder bugs and western conifer seed bugs share characteristics such as:

  • Long, oval bodies
  • Six legs
  • Winged appearance

How to differentiate: western conifer seed bugs are mostly brown and are associated with pine trees, unlike boxelder bugs.

Western Conifer Seed Bug

European Firebugs

Boxelder bugs and European firebugs can look alike because of:

  • Red and black markings
  • Six legs
  • Similar size

How to differentiate: European firebugs are native to Europe and have distinct patterns on their wings, differentiating them from boxelder bugs.

Firebug

Elm Seed Bug

Boxelder bugs and elm seed bugs can be mistaken for each other due to:

  • Red markings on their bodies
  • Six legs
  • Similar body shape

How to differentiate: Elm seed bugs are smaller and are primarily associated with elm trees, while boxelder bugs prefer boxelder trees.

Elm Seed Bug

Summary Comparison Table

Bug Name Body Shape Color Size Trees/Plants Commonly Found Diseases Transmitted
Eastern Boxelder Bug Oval Black with red markings 12-14 mm Boxelder trees None
Western Boxelder Bug Oval Black with red markings 12-14 mm Boxelder trees None
Red-shouldered Bug Oval Black with red markings 8-11 mm Various trees None
Squash Bug Oval Brownish-gray 15-25 mm Squash and pumpkin plants None
Bordered Plant Bug Oval Green or yellow with red 8-10 mm Flowers and plants None
Leaffooted Bug Long, Oval Brown 20-25 mm Various plants None
Kissing Bug Oval Dark brown with red 14-24 mm Various trees Chagas disease
Western Conifer Seed Bug Long, Oval Brown 15-20 mm Pine trees None
European Firebug Oval Red with black markings 9-12 mm Various plants None
Elm Seed Bug Oval Brown with red markings 6-8 mm Elm trees None

Conclusion

Boxelder bugs, with their distinctive red and black markings, are often mistaken for a variety of other bugs.

While they are harmless and primarily a nuisance, it’s essential to differentiate them from other similar-looking pests, some of which can be harmful or transmit diseases.

This article has provided a comprehensive guide to identifying boxelder bugs and distinguishing them from their common lookalikes.

By understanding their physical characteristics, habitats, and habits, homeowners can make informed decisions about managing these pests and ensuring a safe environment.

Footnotes

  1. Boxelder Bugs – 5.522 – Extension 2
  2. Boxelder bugs | UMN Extension 2
  3. Box elder bugs are a harmless nuisance | OSU Extension Service 2
  4. Stink bugs and boxelder bugs everywhere? | OSU Extension Service 2

Reader Emails

Over the years, our website, whatsthatbug.com has received hundreds of letters and some interesting images asking us about these insects. Scroll down to have a look at some of them.

Letter 1 – Boxelder Bug

Red and black beetle, or what?
Can you identify this dude? I have been looking on web sites for two days now and cannot come up with it. First time seeing them around my house.

They seem to be coming from behind the vinyl siding, near the edges, but we have found several inside in different rooms. Can you offer any help? Thanks in advance.
Gene O’Connor

Hi Gene,
We feel somehow compelled to give you a hard time. Out of curiosity, how much time in those two days did you spend looking at our site? because the Boxelder Bug is prominently featured at the very top of our homepage since we get so many requests to identify it.

Letter 2 – Boxelder Aggregation

Identification
Greetings,
I have these bugs at my house in Georgia. Mostly outside around the house and in pine straw. Any idea what they are and how to get rid of them, etc?
Thanks
Michelle

Hi Michelle,
Many of our advertisers specialize in tips and techniques for eliminating Boxelder Bugs.

Letter 3 – Box Elder Bugs

Hi Bugman,
I live in a very cold winter climate, where usually seeing bugs this time of year is unusual..I have found several bugs in my home, since about October or so, that are beetle-like with strange red stripes on the back. It appears to have wings, as when I kill them, the wings come up from the body.

You can’t really see the wings like on other bugs, though, unless you are looking for them. Can you help? I had a ghastly thought at first that it could be a cockroach, but, I am pretty confident it is not.

Being they are alive now, they must be coming from somewhere inside my home. In the event you can identify from my flimsy description, could you also clue me in on what to do to get rid of them and where to look for them?
Thank you,
Melissa

Dear Melissa,
I believe you have Box Elder Bugs which sometimes hibernate, aggregating in huge numbers, inside homes. They are seeking protection and could be somewhere in the basement or some dark closet, probably somewhere near the point of entry.

They may have come in through a crack or a window when it was just beginning to get cooler. Sorry I don’t have any extermination advice. Try checking with your local exterminator. Here is a photo sent in by Tom last year.

Democrat Bug!
I’ve been hearing about a “politician bug”. My searches brought up every devious politician in history and I couldn’t find anything out about a “real” bug. I write musical plays and just completed one that translates the world of butterflies into a clown environment.

My next musical will be about lovebugs, placing the lovebugs in a southern town where the bugs are a gang who shows up twice a year and is intimated by the people living there, even though they’re supposed to be the pests.

The idea of writing a musical portraying bugs as politicians intrigues me, with all the characteristics and instincts of this bug, perhaps set in the White House, and especially since this bug is nicknamed after politicians. Have you heard of this?
Dawn Labuy-brockett

Hi Dawn,
I was intrigued with your latest message, and couldn’t believe the Asian Longhorned Beetle would go by such a common name. Here is a site which attributes the name Democrat Bug to the Box Elder Bug. No information on the origin of the name though.

Thanks so much for the help! I got thrown off with a site named a picture of an Asian Longhorned Beetle “Democrat”. It was indeed the boxelder I was looking for. I had a feeling at the beginning that boxelder was the bug, but I got misled. You are right!!! The bugman rules!
It’s been a pleasure…
Dawn

Letter 4 – Box Elder Bugs

These bugs are all over my workshop/shed. They have red eyes and fly. There are literally thousands of them. They mass in giant clumps. What are they, I’ve never seen them before.
Thanks.

We usually get group portraits of Box Elder Bugs (Leptocoris trivittatus)

Letter 5 – Box Elder Bugs

WHAT KIND OF BUGS ARE THESE??? THEY ARE BLACK WITH TWO RED STRIPES ON THE WINGS AND THEY LOOK LIKE A FIREFLY. WE WERE TOLD THAT THEY ARE A TYPE OF BEETLE, BUT ARE UNABLE TO FIND THEM IN ANY BOOK. THEY ARE COMING FROM A ROTTING ELM TREE. THERE IS ALSO WATER DAMAGE TO THE HOUSE IF THIS HELPS IDENTIFY THEM

Dear Stat,
Without more concrete information regarding size and orientation of the stripes, vertical versus horizontal, it would be difficult to identify your bug.

Wood boring beetles are often of the longhorn variety, and though they are not true beetles, the box elder bug (Leptocoris trivittatus) might be your culprit, but they eat leaves, not rotting wood.

Rove beetles look like fireflies, but their wings are hidden. They might lurk around rotting wood, searching for soft succulent prey. Can you send a photo?

Letter 6 – Box Elder Bugs

These bugs are all over my workshop/shed. They have red eyes and fly. There are literally thousands of them. They mass in giant clumps. What are they, I’ve never seen them before.
Thanks.

Dear Sir,
You have an infestation of Box Elder Bugs (Leptocoris trivittatus). Check out our website www.whatsthatbug.com for more information. We have additional information on the massing bugs which we have listed under ladybugs because a recent question involved both species.

Letter 7 – Box Elder Bugs

Daniel,
We just bought an old house and in the basement and on the lower outside walls of the house we have an infestation (I mean millions) of black bugs with thin, neatly drawn orange lines outlining their backs/wings.

Thee bugs have narrow bodies, are about 3/4 of an inch long, and have long antennae. They fly occasionally, but mostly just crawl around, and they sit in large clusters–they pile right on top of each other. Strangely, we also have lots of lady bugs mixing in with them. I live in southern York county, PA (on the PA/MD line) and we have had an unusually warm winter.
Any idea what the black bugs are, why they and the lady
bugs are here, whether they are doing damage and what I can
do to get rid of them and prevent them from returning?
Many, many thanks.
Tricia


Does this look familiar?

Dear Tricia,
Ladybugs are famous for communal hibernation, generally in mountainous areas. In recent years though, throughout the Eastern states, they have begun to invade homes. My internet search turned up this quote from the site http://www.uky.edu :

“People first started reporting large aggregations of lady beetles (ladybugs) on homes and buildings in Kentucky during the fall of 1993. Ladybugs are normally considered beneficial insects because they feed outdoors on aphids and other harmful plant pests.

However, these beetles are congregating on the sides of buildings, and if given the opportunity, moving inside. Lady beetles do not sting or carry diseases, nor do they infest food, clothing, or wood.

Nonetheless, this particular species (Harmonia axyridis) can become a nuisance when large numbers begin crawling on windows, walls, light fixtures, and other indoor surfaces. When disturbed, they also secrete a foul-smelling orange-colored fluid that can spot and stain walls, carpeting, and other surfaces….

Because the Asian lady beetle is a tree-dwelling insect, homes and buildings in forested areas are especially prone to infestation. Suburban and landscaped industrial settings adjacent to wooded areas have also had large lady beetle aggregations.

Once the beetles land on the sunny side of the
building, they attempt to locate cracks and other dark openings for hibernation sites. These locations may ultimately be on any side of the structure. Common overwintering sites include cracks and crevices around window and door frames, porches, garages and outbuildings, beneath exterior siding and roof shingles, and within wall voids, attics, and soffits.

Structures in poor repair or with many cracks and openings are especially vulnerable to problems.”

The site goes on to recommend removing the ladybugs with a vacuum cleaner. Your other insect is most probably a box elder bug (Leptocoris trivittatus).
On http://www.pma.edmonton.ab.ca it says, “When present in large enough numbers Box Elder Bugs can do damage to Manitoba Maple trees.

Most people call us in the fall because they are curious about the large numbers on the walls of their houses or concerned about the numbers that are getting in the houses. Washing them off the walls of the house with a blast of cold water from a hose may help.

The only way to ensure that they do not get inside the house is to fill in all
cracks where they could be getting in, a rather daunting and expensive task.”
Though each of these insects is known to form communes, I have never heard of them bedding down together, but they’re not the strangest bedfellows I’ve encountered by far.


daniel, you are my hero. Many thanks for your help. We’re promptly getting out the hose and starting to fill in cracks–and I’m sleeping much better knowing that neither bug is eating my house into sawdust. What a valuable service you perform for those of us who are bug-clueless!
Many thanks again.
tricia

Letter 8 – Boxelder Bug

Are Box Elder Bugs harmful to birds?
Location:  Saint Paul, MN
October 6, 2010 7:39 pm
There was a box elder bug in my apartment today and my little parrot was very interested in trying to eat it! Are these insects safe for a pet bird to eat?
Thank you so much for any help!
Signature:  Kayla

Boxelder Bug

Hi Kayla,
To the best of our knowledge, Boxelder Bugs are non-toxic.  Your great photo should help new readers identify Boxelder Bugs which often form large aggregations on light walls with southern exposures in the fall.

Letter 9 – Boxelder Bug

They are taking over my pretty farm house
Location: Southern Indiana
February 3, 2011 12:30 pm
Could someone please help me ID this menance to my newly refurbished farm house? They are all over the walls and especially the windows on the south walls of my house. They are staying downstairs but ladybugs are upstairs and on the west enclosed porch.

I knew about the ladybugs and will have to deal with those but this is bigger and ugly. I hessitate in inviting people over for fear they will think Im a poor mother and wife allowing these to cohabitate with us.
Signature: Disheartened mommy

Boxelder Bug

Dear Disheartened mommy,
No amount of post production sharpening in photoshop is going to help your blurry photo, but there are still enough details for us to identify your Boxelder Bug thanks to your excellent description, though ugly is not a word we would use.  Boxelder Bugs are harmless creatures that hibernate over the winter. 

When your farm house was refurbished, the contractor must not have adequately sealed and weatherstripped.  You need to find the point of entry and seal it off.  The Ladybugs are probably entering the home the same way.

Authors

    by
  • Bugman

    Bugman aka Daniel Marlos has been identifying bugs since 1999. whatsthatbug.com is his passion project and it has helped millions of readers identify the bug that has been bugging them for over two decades. You can reach out to him through our Contact Page.

  • Piyushi Dhir

    Piyushi is a nature lover, blogger and traveler at heart. She lives in beautiful Canada with her family. Piyushi is an animal lover and loves to write about all creatures.

2 thoughts on “9 Bugs That Look Like Boxelder Bugs: Surprising Mimics in Your Garden”

  1. I have literally millions of these on all of my trees, including maples. Are these harmful to a house structure? As we have now found them on the doorways of our home, as well as our wooden deck. We have had terminix out to spray, but they continue to remain. They are also in mounds close to our house. I have also identified a totally red one. Is that the queen or do these bugs have queens like ants? I would like to know as much about these bugs as I can find out. Thank You.

    Reply

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